Seeing America one highway at a time. (Thinkstock)
“Not all who wander are lost” J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote. These days, it seems wandering is having it’s moment. For all the people who fantasize about giving up everything in pursuit of a dream – these are the people actually doing it. People are quitting their jobs, selling their belongings, and hitting the road to live and travel in an RV. RVing has become a movement of sorts. According to a Recreation Vehicle Industry Association study, nearly one in 12 vehicle-owning households in the U.S. now owns an RV — that’s more than 8.9 million people with a house on wheels. And that doesn’t even include rentals. Since 2004, RV rentals have increased 34 percent sending industry sales skyrocketing close to $350 million dollars. That’s a lot of people chasing a dream. Here are four of their stories.
Emily and Mark Fagan
The Fagans (Emily Fagan)
In 2007, Emily and Mark Fagan found themselves in an interesting predicament. While visiting a friend in the Sea of Cortez, Emily became entranced with the idea of living on a boat. Since their Phoenix-based home was landlocked, sea life would prove logistically tricky. But it fueled their conversations and intensified their wanderlust.
On the weekends, the two would hop in their pop-up trailer and go camping. Eventually, it dawned on them that the road — not the sea — awaited. “Our children were grown and our parents were healthy,” says Emily, now 54. “We decided it was the perfect time to do it.”
A few Fridays later, the gym where Emily worked as a personal trainer closed. That was the turning point. “By the end of that weekend we had sold our car, our popup tent trailer, half our stuff, the house was in escrow, and we had a deposit on a 27-foot travel trailer,” she says. Over the next three weeks Mark, now 60, closed his bike shop, and they went and picked up their new RV.
The Fagans’ friends and family were surprisingly supportive. “My mom raised me to be adventurous. Mark grew up camping and motorcycling across country,” says Emily. “Travel was in our blood. So it made sense to everyone.”
Eight years later, they’ve never looked in the rear view mirror. Instead they embrace the unknown and have covered a lot of ground including Utah (their favorite), Idaho, Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado. Both took up photography, and investments and freelance writing help pay the majority of their bills, which are similar to what they were living in a house.
Of course, a home on wheels can present it’s own challenges. One of the Fagan’s funniest memories came when they were newbie RVers. While traveling up Route 101 on the Oregon Coast, the spotted the gorgeous Heceta Head Lighthouse. As they continued to drive North, they saw a small sign that said “Lighthouse” so they turned onto the road to see the historic site up close. As they drove down the tiny road, the pavement turned to dirt and it became narrower and narrower. Soon, tree branches were scraping the sides and the RV barely fit on the road. But they continued to press on hoping the road would open up. Over a mile down the road, they realized they couldn’t turn the RV around or back up. “There was a steep drop-off on our right side and we could hear a rushing stream far below us on that side,” says Emily. “On the left side, the tree studded land went straight up.” With a sense of terror mounting, they got out of the RV and biked to check out the road ahead. A quarter of a mile beyond the trailer, they saw a tiny area where they would turn around. “We learned to never go down a skinny road without scoping it out first!” says Emily.
But even with some tricky situations, being able to see the beauty of the country makes it all worth it. “The first time we saw the Tentons in Wyoming and Bryce Canyon and Cedar Breaks in Utah were truly magical moments,” says Emily. “It’s been so much fun, and we’ve barely scratched the surface,” Emily says. “We can’t imagine stopping.”
The Kellogg family
The Kellogg family: Dan, Susie, Grady, Brody, Kady, Kenny, Dally, Cardy, Maddy, Rowdy, Emmy, Elly, Coby and the dog, Eddy. Missing from picture, oldest daughter Kerry. (Susie Kellogg)
It’s hard enough to manage a family of 14 when you live in a house. But can you imagine trying to make it work in an RV? That’s exactly what Dan and Susie Kellogg, both 41, did with their brood of 12 (plus the family dog!).
“Initially, we started kayaking and traveling around our home state of Colorado, but with the size of our family it was difficult, so we got the RV to travel together,” says Dan. In 2012, the family set out on a fun trip to Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. “On the way back we were all bummed out that we were going back home,” says Susie, who was heavily pregnant with child number 12 at the time. “We started talking about selling the house and doing it full time.”
That was September. Two weeks after the baby was born in October, they rented out their house, hopped in their 36-foot 1999 Georgia Boy Cruiser Master and hit the road. The transition was actually quite smooth. “There was a learning curve,” says Susie. “We had to learn to communicate and get along and respect each other’s space but it wasn’t a long learning curve. We are in the RV to travel and sleep but the rest of the time we are out doing amazing things.” The RV has one side that slides out making it more spacious, which prevents the feeling that everyone is sitting on top of each other.
Dan is a software engineer who works from “home.” As for education, Susie home schools the children — who range in age from 2 to 21 — every morning. But she’s quick to add that life experiences and seeing the world have been the best teachers for the kids. “They see things like the stars and start researching solar systems and when we are at the beach they always learn about new species,” she says. “The other day the boys were making a quarter pipe and a jump for their snowboards and they were using calculus to figure out the proper angles and measurements.” A few of the older kids – Grady (18), Brody (17), and Kady (16) – have developed a knack with photography.
But even more than cruising around the states, the Kellogg’s are relishing their time together as a family. “We always set out to have a fun, exciting life and to live authentically,” says Susie. Adds Dan, “It’s brought us closer together. I didn’t think we could be closer as a family but now we are a really tight knit group.”
Schade’s life on the road (Becky Schade)
One’s 20s are generally an when young adults head out on their own and exert their independence for the first time. Nobody knows this more than Becky Schade. After graduating college, the Wisconsin native expected to feel like life was just beginning. But after taking a job as a veterinarian technician in coastal South Carolina, she felt burdened and unfulfilled. “I wasn’t happy working the typical 9-to-5 job,” Becky says. “I would spend half my year planning my two weeks of vacation.”
Instead, Becky dreamt about traveling. Then, one day, after reading a blog about RVing, Becky instantly knew that’s what she wanted to do. “It just doesn’t happen overnight. There’s a lot of stuff to think about,” says the 30-year-old. “Like, where the heck is my mail going to go and how will I get health insurance when most companies won’t insure people that are traveling outside of their state?” For more than a year, she researched, saved money and planned.
In September 2012, she hit the road in a tiny 17-foot molded fiberglass travel trailer, which she named “Cas.”
While RVing retirees often have money stashed away to allow them to live on the road for extended periods of time, Schade works three-month seasonal retail jobs in various national parks to help pay for her RVing lifestyle. “I’ve worked at Badlands National Park and Zion National Park,” she says. “This year, I want to work in Wyoming or Montana. Grand Teton National Park or Yellowstone would be amazing.” Early on, Schade learned the hard way to work warmer areas in the colder months when she was caught in a nasty snowstorm in TKTK that shut down highways, left 22,000 homes without power, and killed 75,000 cattle.
Along the way, she also learned that being young and single on the road presents its own challenges — especially when it comes to socializing and dating. “Loneliness caught me off guard when I first started traveling,” she recalls, adding that her introverted personality didn’t help. “Now, when I get to a place, I really make an effort to engage those around me.” She also uses Match.com dates as quasi-local tour guides. “I change the city of residence and then explain that I am only in town for a limited time,” she says. “Most people think it’s pretty neat what I’m doing and they’ll take me around and show me all the things the place is known for. It’s a great way to learn a new area.”
Schade is happier than she’s ever been before. “I think I have a pretty awesome life.”
Kristin and Jason Snow
The Snowmads and their rescue dogs (Kristin Snow)
Kristin and Jason Snow call themselves “The Snowmads” — and there really isn’t a more spot-on term for the two. Since August 2013, the 32-year-olds have been living out of RVs — first a renovated a 27-foot 1965 Airstream trailer and most recently a 2016 Trek RV.
After getting married at 30, the two spend their first year as newlyweds renovating a condo and then a house. “We always loved to travel so even when we were in one place we couldn’t stay put,” she says.
It was just after they were putting the finishing touches on their 100-year-old house that they found a dilapidated airstream on Craigslist. For one year, Kristin and Jason made restoring the Airstream a labor of love, pouring more than $30,000 into it. “To put that in perspective: a brand new one is $60,000-$100,000,” says Kristin. Still, “everybody thought we were crazy.”
At first, the trailer was going to serve as a vacation vehicle — one where they could travel with their three rescue dogs. But as they painted, soldered, glued, and hammered an entirely new interior — the plan started to change. “We had been working in cubicles for a decade and we knew there was more to life than that,” she says. “We were like, let’s live in this and let’s see as much of the United States as we can.”
They quit their jobs and started Boondock Marketing, an online digital marketing company. Today, Kristin runs the business from the RV and Jason works for Wordpress. “It can be hard when you go someplace cool,” says Kristin. “You have to remind yourself that you still have responsibilities and that you’re not on vacation.”
One area they took the time to enjoy was their journey down Route 66 (one of the original highways in the U.S. that ran from Illinois to California. “One of the most memorable moments was getting to walk on an original, preserved 1920s stretch of Route 66 in Oklahoma that is only nine feet wide,” says Kristin. “Back then, they didn’t think automobiles would catch on, so why spend the money on a two-lane road? Visiting the towns along Route 66 with their neon lights and kitschy tourist appeal was amazing too.” Today, the historic road’s popularity is making a comeback as people become more and more nostalgic about slower-paced travel where the journey is part of the enjoyment. “We recommend that anybody who is driving cross country hop on at least part of the road, or plan an entire trip around it, and experience what driving used to be like,” says Kristin.
During their first year on the road, the couple traveled to 35 states. This spring they will head north taking the Pacific Coast Highway all the way up to Alaska where they will stay for three to four months. “It’s a great big world out there and it’s fun to see.”
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